ALIZE Cornet hasn’t always been a fan of the grass and had only once made it past the second round in her previous seven appearances at the All England Club.
But, as she secured a place in the fourth round with victory over the top seed Serena Williams on Saturday, she showed how her feelings towards the carefully manicured lawns have changed, bending down to kiss the turf on Court No 1.
“I think that was very symbolic because it means ‘now I love you grass and I didn’t before’,” she laughed, her joy at reaching the second week of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships evident to all.
“Yeah, it’s the best victory for me in a slam. I did a lot of third rounds but I was really looking for this second week, now I have it. It deserved a kiss, I think.” Williams had bemoaned the fact that every player seems to raise their game against her, but the fact is that a number of women are finally realising a place in the latter stages of these events is far from beyond them. That has manifested itself in the last seven days with the top two seeds ousted before the first week had expired.
But, while Cornet was too good for Williams on the day, she, perhaps ominously for Eugenie Bouchard, who will meet her on Centre Court this afternoon, said she had been well shy of her best form, noting that several aspects of her game could be improved before today.
But she has hammered home the belief that there are more and more women now proving their mental toughness and, with plenty of the hard work and steel that set the likes of the Williams sisters apart for so long, their skills are less limited.
“I worked. I worked a lot on it,” she said. “I worked on my forehand, which was the weakness on this surface. I worked on the way I moved, as well. You know, there is no secret. It’s all about working. I think the most important is that I got to like it actually because before I didn’t like grass. It was just a pain to come here in Wimbledon. I knew I will have a tough time on the court. Since last year, it’s the contrary. I like coming here. I like playing matches. It’s just different than the other tournaments. I enjoy it.”
But with four first-round, two second and one third-round exit all she had to show for her past efforts on the SW19 stage, the magnitude of her win over the five-time champion will not have been lost on the remaining contenders for the Venus Rosewater dish.
If it surprised them, it stunned the Frenchwoman herself. She added: “If somebody would have told me a coupleof years ago that I would be in second week in Wimbledon, beating Serena, I wouldn’t have believed it. It feels great. It shows I improved these last years.”
Slaughtered 1-6 in the first set, the fact she came back to win the next two fairly comfortably, 6-3, 6-4, against a player who once had most opponents beaten the minute they drew her in the draw of a grand slam, was partly due to the memories she had of beating her earlier this year in Dubai.
Despite the different surface complicating matters slightly, she relied on the same tactics that had worked so well for her that day. A gifted exponent of the drop shot, she forced Williams to send one error after another into the net.
More creative on the court, she varied her forehands, and mixed things up with top spin and drop shots and moved well across the court. Her first serve was also decent, even if she was frustrated that it wasn’t at its best. She said: “All these kind of things help me on the court to stay calm and know where I’m going actually. Because against Serena, she doesn’t lose a single chance to make you feel that she is the boss on the court.”
Williams’ aura of indefatigability has been eroded over the years. Still one of the strongest players on the tour, evidenced by her No 1 ranking, the others no longer consider her unbeatable, though. Cornet’s victory over her in Dubai earlier this year proves the 24-year-old right- hander is more than a one-hit wonder and has a game that is improving.
“I watched some images from this match in Dubai because this match was one of the best matches of my season. I was playing very, very good tactically and I really tried to take all these things out of this match to help me.
“You know, I just knew that I could do it because I did it once in Dubai, which is a big tournament. I thought, okay, maybe it’s on grass, so it’s less easy. Definitely it helped me today, especially when I had to serve at 5‑4 in the third, because I had to do it already in Dubai at 5‑4 in the second set. I tried to stay calm as I did in Dubai and just to remain focused, focused on the simple things.”
If Williams is the face of Grand Slams past and the American remains the one to beat for now, there is a new group of up-and-coming stars, with the future at their feet. One of the marquee names in that group is Bouchard, a player who is constantly compared to Maria Sharapova, with the beauty and the grit to take her places on and off the court. None of that matters to Cornet, though, who does not dwell on reputations, simply on shots.
“I know the next one is going to be very tough because Eugenie is playing amazing since last year. She’s one of the top players of this season. I will think maybe about a different tactic to have against her.
“But, actually, I think I’m not intimidated by anyone. I try not to focus too much on who I have on the other side of the net because it’s the best way to lose your way, to lose the way you have to play, to lose your concentration.”
So far she has done none of that. The Centre Court will provide the next test. As will Bouchard. But Cornet seems in no rush to kiss this place goodbye.